Via NYT, we hear about the beginning of the assault on microblogging:
The operators of China’s most vibrant equivalent of Twitter notified each of its 200 million users Friday that several bloggers deemed to have spread unfounded rumors would have their accounts suspended for one month.
In messages, the operators of Sina.com’s Weibo microblog detailed the suspensions of the bloggers. The announcements provoked a torrent of online protest, some of which was directed at the government on the assumption that it was behind the punishments.
The company’s notices stated that two bloggers who had spread false rumors on Weibo would lose their right to post messages or to add followers for a month. One stated that a blogger had been suspended after posting a false report that the accused killer of a 19-year-old woman had been set free after his politically powerful father intervened.
Another disclosed the suspension of a blogger who accused the Red Cross Society of China, which is mired in a financial scandal, of selling blood at a profit.
Some Weibo users sardonically applauded the suspensions, writing that the notices of them spread the rumors more effectively than the original bloggers.
“I didn’t know about the story till now. How tragic!” one blogger wrote. Others expressed outrage. “How does Weibo know what’s true or not?” one user wrote. “Who gives Weibo the right to silence its users?”
Still, one official of a Chinese Internet-related service, speaking on the condition of anonymity about a matter of deep concern to the authorities, predicted that the notices would have a chilling effect.
The official said the announcements may also represent the start of further efforts to keep politically sensitive information out of the public domain.
While they do this publicly to try and discourage people from posting similar messages in the future, I’ll bet they’re also putting a lot of effort into behind the scenes measures to break the backs of the microblog sites. We’ll see what the details are when they inevitably leak out.